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Chris Gay: Braves need to begin youth movement

Posted: May 30, 2017 - 11:52pm

I'm ready for the Atlanta Braves youth movement to begin in full. And in the words of Veruca Salt, I want it now!

I've supported this Atlanta Braves rebuild since it began a few years ago. Bloated contracts for overrated players have led to nothing more than misery. I hope the Braves contend for another World Series title before my children graduate from high school - they just finished fifth grade. If Atlanta has to lose another 90 to 100 games again this season, fine. I suffered through the 1980s. I can endure a full-fledged rebuild.

I was unsure what to think when Atlanta's front office made the decision to sign two pitchers a year younger than me (R.A. Dickey, 42) and a year older than me (Bartolo Colon, 44). We Braves fans were told these guys were "innings-eaters," that they'd give the younger players time to develop in the minors. Sure.

Watching Colon and Dickey pitch this season has been like watching Mr. and Mrs. Havercamp play golf in the movie Caddyshack. That's a peach, hon. Oh golly, I'm hot today.

Colon and Dickey are making $12.5 million and $7.5 million, respectively - or a combined $20 million more than you and I are to pitch. Are they worth it? Let's look at their stats.

Colon began Tuesday night leading all of Major League Baseball with 41 earned runs allowed in 53 innings - an unsightly 6.96 ERA. Colon was an All-Star last year with an ERA less than half what it is now. The Braves made the mistake of buying high on a guy who appears to have run out of gas - fortunately, it was just a one-year deal. How much longer can this disaster last? Will he make it to his Bobblehead Night on June 9?

As for Dickey, his numbers are a little better, but that's not saying much. Dickey sports a 4.65 ERA with a 1.58 WHIP. His ERA has progressively gotten worse the past four years. The knuckleballer is under contract this year with a team option for next season.

Atlanta entered Tuesday with a 22-27 record, 8.5 games behind Washington. The Braves have won despite its pitching. Even team "ace" Julio Teheran has been terrible this season.

The team should continue to let the three pitchers drafted last year in the early rounds - Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller - develop in the lower levels, along with 2015 draft picks Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka and A.J. Minter. But why not give guys like Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims at the Triple-A level a chance to cut their teeth in the majors? Besides, can they be any worse than the Colon-Dickey tandem?

Those of you my age and older remember the 1980s Braves. Aside from 1982 and 1983, the team was atrocious. Atlanta even had its own overweight pitcher - its own Colon - in the mid-1980s in Terry Forster, a guy David Letterman once referred to as a "fat tub of goo."

While Atlanta was a laughing stock in the late 1980s, pitchers like Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and John Smoltz spent two to three years in the minors before taking the next step. As a 22-year-old, Glavine was awful his first full season in the majors, going 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA in 1988. He went on to finish with 305 wins and 2 Cy Young Awards in his Hall of Fame career.

Smoltz, then 21, came to the majors midway through the 1988 season and went 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA. He won 12 or more games each of the next five seasons with an ERA below 4.00. Smoltz went on to win a Cy Young Award and join Glavine in the Hall of Fame.

As a 20-year-old, Avery came up mid-season and went 3-11 with a 5.64 ERA in 1990. The next year, he went 18-8 and helped lead Atlanta to the World Series.

It took a few years for the young pitchers to develop, but when they did the Braves added some key pieces to help the team become a dynasty.

Newcomb, 24, and Sims, 23, are having fine seasons for Gwinnett. Newcomb is 3-2 with a 2.96 ERA, with 67 strikeouts and 30 walks in 51.1 innings. Sims is 4-2 with a 3.42 ERA, with 51 strikeouts and 14 walks in 50 innings. It'd be nice to see what they can do this season for Atlanta.

As for Colon and Dickey, it's time to cut bait. Maybe they were brought in to help sell tickets for this new stadium. But they're doing nothing more than holding up this rebuilding project for another season.

Play the young guys. Let's see what they've got. And if they're not any good, the next wave of pitchers is a few years behind them. And in a few weeks, Atlanta will have the Nos. 5, 41 and 80 picks in the Major League Baseball draft. The Braves should be able to get a few good players from the early rounds.

This season, Atlanta is playing rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson and letting him develop. The Braves have some solid players for the near future in All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman and center fielder Ender Inciarte. Ozzie Albies, the second baseman of the future, is developing at Triple-A. Now, it's time for the Braves to start bringing up their young pitchers.

The future is bright for Atlanta. And while we all need patience, none of us want to see any fat tubs of goo throwing soft tosses to the plate. I want to see the young guys, and I want to see them now!

 

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